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Google Thinks Businesses Can Save Economy

New America Media, News Report, Mary Ambrose Posted: Oct 08, 2008

Editors Note: Googles chief thinks that giving U.S. businesses incentives to develop renewable energy infrastructures and technology is the answer to checking the countrys environmental degradation, as well as saving the economy. Mary Ambrose is an editor at New America Media. She covers the environment.

San Francisco While they wrangled in D.C. about the bailout package, Googles CEO Eric Schmidt assured the Commonwealth Club audience at the Fairmount Hotel that despite the Wall Street debacle, it is business that will save the economy and pull us back from the brink of environmental degradation.

Now, he says, is the time to reverse what he describes as the total failure of political leadership to address the problem of climate change, which has ignored it with a lack of understanding of technology and co-operation.

His plan is simple and is outlined on Googles site: Give business what it needs (tax breaks, incentives) to develop renewable energy infrastructures and technology. This will provide hundreds of thousands of jobs that cannot be exported, and will develop American expertise that can be. The worst case scenario he warned is that we ignore this and the technology is created and built in a country which is not the U.S.A.

And it requires government help.

The money is in Washington, he said, because politicians can create debt and credit markets. And, he added with a smile, they have an apparent willingness to write big checks in a time of crisis.

Energy independence should be at the top of the list, he said of the inevitable stimulation package that would follow the bail out.

Energy efficiency is the easiest way to create that, and Google is positioning itself in this market. Technological solutions can help. Schmidt argues that the current system where the consumer has needs and buys energy to fill it is backward. If people know how much energy costs while they use it, they will use it differently. People will do their laundry when the energy costs are lower.

A conservative estimate says that a third of all cars will run on electricity, so people will plug in their cars when energy is cheap. These ideas require cheap reliable monitors.

While tooting Googles horn for the energy saved in their own data centers (the most efficient in the world says their website) Googles energy plan also points the finger at computers. They claim that most PC computers waste nearly half the energy they consume, and technology can certainly help address that. As a huge consumer of energy, Googles interest in this just makes sense. We make money when we save energy, said Schmidt.

While Schmidts suggested plan offers a long timeline (2030) to significantly reduce the use of fossil fuel, and the cost of developing the renewable energy business will still be considerable, he maintained that it was cheaper to fix global warming than to ignore it.

Forty percent of climate change is from buildings, said Schmidt, urging that Californias tough building codes be adopted nationally. Focusing on buildings is obvious, he said, because whatever it costs now, it will only get more expensive.

Schmidt dismissed pursuing better methods to extract oil or pushing for offshore drilling. There was no point in hoping for more oil or gas, because they have a limited supply. In the long run these are non-renewables, and regardless of how cheaply we can recover it, he argued, a long-term plan tells us that the price will eventually go up.

As for which renewable energy he preferred, Schmidt said he favored wind, solar and advanced geothermal. The efficient thing to do would be to focus on energy sources that were free, like the sun and the wind. Geothermal is close to becoming mainstream and well drill for it, he said.

Some investors are a little concerned that Googles CEO was interested in changing the world and taking his eye off Internet products. Schmidt tried to reassure them. We are in the news business and we can provide information about energy, he said, and Google can make money by providing risk capital for renewable energy startups. That, he shrugged, may be our role.

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